Even though the media plays a big role in the development of any society, its fairness in reporting news has remained questionable. The issue of unfairness in media has been linked to two major causes. One entails the cases of intimidation of journalists who uncover unpleasant truths about such vices as; environmental abuse, human rights catastrophes and poverty. Second the issue of biasness along such factors as racial lines in the mainstream media has caused some critics to ask whether there is fairness in reporting by the media. One organ that has played a role as a critic to the way news is reported by in print and broadcast is the Fair and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) founded in 1986 in the United States. According to FAIR, many journalists are engaged in one-sided statements that present half-truths when they are reporting news either in print or broadcast. This trend is mostly notable in social issues like elections, environmental abuse and human rights abuse.
According to Cassidy and McGrady (5), although media is supposed to be aggressive, critical, and independent for a well informed society, mainstream media have become increasingly comfortable with the social, economic and political powers they are supposed to be keeping on watch. The two argue that the emergence of mergers by players in the news industry has accelerated the issue by limiting the variety of viewpoints that gets into mass media. For instance, Cassidy and McGrady (5) observe that in the US, independent journalism is compromised in the media outlets most of which are owned by for-profit companies and duly supported by corporate advertisers. Evidently, there is need to advocated for structural reforms in the media to promote independent broadcasting.
According to Cohen (7), unfair reporting occurs when one group of people is given more attention in media than the other group which may be in a disadvantaged position. It may also occur when reporters take sides in reporting the news to the public. According to Cohen (7), media has more often than not chosen to support sides through highly organized and funded corruption which has compromised the independence of many media companies.
Fairness in media reporting is compromised through modes like censorship. Media owners in their attempt to comply with policies may find sometimes compromising on the news that is report. This is because most governments normally want to be involved in close monitoring of the media to ensure that the information flows freely. Cohen (8) argues that in order to meet fairness in reporting, official censorship must be constantly guarded against. However, in most societies it is the media houses that censors in most cases as compared to other regulators such as the government. This is manifested in the manner in which media outlets suppress stories which they feel will undermine the interest of their company. Furthermore, advertisers also use their financial influence to sway what is broadcasted or printed through this media. Cassidy and McGrady (5) indicate that powerful businesses use threat of expensive lawsuits to discourage reporters from following up a legitimate investigation. Cohen (10) argue that fairness is also undermined in the form of self censorship where journalists abandon stories which they think will not be popular with their bosses.
Obstacles to Fair Reporting in Media
Cohen (7) notes that despite the claims by the media that it has an adversarial relationship with the government; media generally tends to follow a particular official line. This is evident particularly during the times of war and foreign policy coverage where fairness in reporting events tends to follow the existing policy by other players. Cohen (7) further argues that this is normally triggered by the need of the ownership body in the media industry to undeservedly share the milieu, worldview, and income together with political elites.
Additionally, top news executives and renowned reporters frequently hang out with government officials with the view of finding handouts from them. Goldberg (12) states that most powerful media companies regularly make huge contributions to major political parties. In return, millions of money changes hands as tokens for running politically instigated and unfair advertisements. In this regard, Goldberg (12) argues that news can correctly be defined as those actions taken by and statements made of people who are in power positions.
Another issue that has led to the compromising of fairness in reporting according to Goldberg (12) is the existence of policies that initially purported to support the freedom of the media and fair reporting but has failed to do so. For instance, in the US, the original communications policy is the 1st Amendment where freedom of the press was initially guaranteed in the Constitution since an exchange of information and a free debate were considered essential components in a democratic society. However, government policy on media is today more focused on helping in facilitating a democratic conversation than in protecting the investments of media channels. The resulting regulations therefore has a tendency of encouraging the media owners to come together in media conglomerates to lock out any kind of opposing arguments. Consequently, this curtails the fairness in the information reported through the media (Goldberg 12).
Furthermore, the need to maximize profits by media has forced corporate news outlets to produce more news with dwindling fairness in reporting. With little time to authenticate stories, journalists are increasingly forced to depend on the work of the public relations industry for the information they publicized. This has further compromised the fairness such stories because the industry equally have its own interests. Brock (17) found out that reporters are increasingly rewriting press releases rather than conducting their own researches. This has led to the programs of such media as the television broadcasting in total interest of the industries they cover. The result is obviously detrimental to the public who entirely depend on the information they obtain from the same media industries.
Similarly, Brock (17) indicate that whereas the workload in media is enough to keep most reporters from reporting fairly, some media corporate have also put strict measures in place to have those reporters who defy their directions. He believes that if fairness is to be observed in media grassroots, advocacy around media issues should be stepped up and be centered on legitimate and essential issues of reporting. Brock (17) emphasized that advocating for fairness in reporting should neither be seen as pressurizing the media to give the public what it wants to hear nor as attempting to suppress viewpoints that are deemed unpopular with any group interested in the news reporting. In this regard Brock (17) notes that fairness in reporting can only be enhanced through advocacy groups who have interest in media reporting.
Goldberg (20) observes that fairness in media reporting is also curtailed through the narrow range of debates in media. Most of the debates are geared towards the business agenda of the media company. Goldberg notes that instead of putting their major focus on what affects the public, the corporate agenda takes center stage in reporting news that meets the requirements of the funders and advertisers. For instance, during a campaign period, some media channels may allocate more time to a politician who has paid more even if that politician is not popular with the public.
In the same manner Goldberg (20) suggests that precedence given to news items in the media depends on how much that news item will be able to bring in terms of cash regardless other than whether this particular information is fair and accurate. In other words, the right edge of reporting of news is usually represented by the reporters’ level of commitment to fair causes. However, there is currently an attempt to change the way news is reported in media especially by those reporters who are enlightened. On the other hand, there are those reporters and media corporate who would want to maintain the culture of unfairness in presenting news. Goldberg (20) observes that these reporters rarely criticize the corporate powers. According to him, this is what the owners of these corporate to openly twist the truth and present news void of fairness and accuracy.
Similarly Cohen (21) agrees that profit-driven media corporate are under great pressure to boost viewership by sensationalizing the news. In this manner, they put much attention on highly emotional stories which often feature bizarre character being broadcasted. He argues that this presentation of news is said to be interesting but lacks significance to the viewers thus leading to people spending a lot of time reading irrelevant information. Cohen (21) notes as the media broadcasters continue to scrambles for the kind of news which bear some level of sensation, they become even more irrelevant to the viewers.
From the foregoing discussion, it is evident that fairness in reporting is an elusive concept whose achievement depends on several factors. Some of these factors are beyond the control of media corporate as they form the very foundation on which the media are based. For instance, the media has no alternative but them to comply with policies which may not necessarily promote fairness in reporting. Furthermore, self censorship by reporters in the field has contributed to lack of fairness in reporting. Therefore, in order to meet the standards of their viewers, the media houses must seek to engage in information creation themselves and avoid relaying only on what is reported to them. This will enable them to present issues as they are to the concerned audience.